Discover the rich culture of mandolins

MIM recently updated its Mandolin Orchestra exhibit in the United States / Canada Gallery. Highlights of the display, dating back to the golden era of this musical tradition, include a rare mando-bass, an exceptional 1922 Gibson F-4 mandolin, and an Italian liuto moderno custom-built in 1905 for a San Francisco mandolin ensemble.

Mandolins are strongly associated with American bluegrass music today, but they carry a rich international history, which can further be appreciated through MIM’s updated exhibit. In the early twentieth century, as millions of European immigrants were establishing new lives in the United States, mandolin orchestras were especially popular as a form of community music making. The mandolin is currently experiencing a revival among new generations and can be heard in many musical genres.

MIM’s updated installation also highlights the creation of a distinctively American mandolin. While many manufacturers successfully imitated traditional Italian mandolin designs, it was not long before the Gibson company, originally based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, pioneered and popularized a full range of innovative, stylish instruments.

“We have a superb collection of mandolin-family instruments on display, ranging from instruments that were sold by the thousands to rare, virtually one-of-a-kind survivors,” says Richard D. Walter, PhD, MIM’s curator for United States / Canada and Europe.